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Thursday, June 29, 2006

 

Let There Be Yard

We get mail: What's up with that rock wall you were building?

Thanks for asking. Last I mentioned it, I had finished leveling out the main part of the yard and had just started building a rock retaining wall.

The wall went up slowly, very slowly, mostly because the rocks were so heavy. My energy would be almost completely sapped after shifting just one of those 200-pound monsters into place. Then we had days and days of rain that turned everything to mud again. But finally, after many pulled muscles and smashed appendages, I finished the wall nearly three weeks after starting it.



There's another thirty feet of wall behind me, with the whole thing stretching about 120 feet along the back and sides. It's two layers except on the sides where it nears the house. My daughter was a big helper, giving it frequent "Wobbly Tests" to see if any of the rocks were unstable.

Next came sprinklers and sod, which have totally transformed our once barren, badly sloped, mud pit of a backyard into a cool oasis for relaxation and fun. Or at least that's what I'm hoping. We still have some trees and bushes to plant, and I might put in some sort of gravel path for the kids to follow around the yard, but the big stuff is done.





Yards can be notorious money pits. I wanted to get everything done at one time so that we wouldn't have to constantly be thinking about new landscaping projects. The goal now is to simply enjoy the yard for years to come. It's an extension of our home - a safe and comfortable place for the kids to play and the parents to relax.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

 

CD Review: The Hipwaders



The Hipwaders are a California band that switched from "power pop" to "children's music" a few years ago without really having to make many stylistic changes. They still play songs with crisp harmonies, jangly guitars, and strong melodies. Only now the lyrics are kid-friendly.

I gave their 2005 self-titled CD the ultimate challenge: A long car trip on a sunny day, with the kids strapped in and ready to be entertained. Would they look out the window? Read? Take a nap? Or would they be captivated by the fun and clever new tunes from The Hipwaders?

This one was no contest... My 8-year-old son was immediately interested. I can always tell. He stares straight ahead and tilts his head slightly, listening intently. The next step for him is to ask for the CD case so he can study it. He did this after the third song. Final success comes when he asks for a song to be repeated, which he did with "Stand Up To The Bully," a rocking number about not being afraid.

My 4-year-old daughter is easier to read. She dances in her seat and pretends to play drums. So, both kids love these songs about candy, robots, bugs, and volcanoes. And the parents like them too!

You have to love a kids' band that is so clearly influenced by artists like The Beatles, XTC, Devo, and Fountains of Wayne. The singer, Tito Uquillas, sounds like a cross between Michael Stipe and Tim Finn (with a dash of Jello Biafra thrown in) with an easy-going, friendly voice, enunciating words clearly for the young listeners. His lyrics never talk down to the kids, but do a great job of letting them know that adults can sometimes remember what it was like to be a child.

My son paid this CD the highest compliment possible by asking to listen to it in his room the last two nights. He's only done that with Ralph's World and a Beatles collection I burned for him.

I asked him to pick out his two favorite songs for you to give a listen:

The Hipwaders - "Stand Up To The Bully" MP3
The Hipwaders - "Time In Time-Out" MP3

So, the highest recommendation from me and the kids! You can buy the CD here at Amazon, or download it at iTunes.



Tuesday, June 27, 2006

 

Bear Of Little Brain


Bear statue - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

"I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me."
- A.A. Milne


A statue is as close as we'll come to seeing a wild bear around here. There are places further north, such as Priest Lake, where you have a much better chance of running into a bear. Some friends of ours went camping this weekend on Upper Priest Lake, which is very remote. She bought some $30 bear spray "just in case." It must've worked... I haven't heard anything on the news lately about people being eaten.

No, closer to home we just experience the occasional moose or deer. During the summer we see a large influx of a strange species known as Touristus Spendius, loved and cared for by many local businesses. And on one weekend at the end of June, going on three years now, we run into a brief migration of very odd creatures known as Extreme Sports Enthusiasts.

On Sunday the Ironman race brought 2500 triathletes and over 20,000 spectators to our little town, clogging the streets and beaches. These competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. The winners finished in something like nine hours. I can't even imagine running a race that lasts one hour, let alone nine.

I don't understand why people drive themselves to extremes for fun. For work, maybe. For survival, of course. But for fun? I'd rather spend nine hours on the beach with my kids. Or nine hours at a kite festival. Or nine hours building Lego cities. Well, maybe nine hours of Lego-building is kind of extreme...


Saturday, June 24, 2006

 

Random Weekend Thoughts

It's going to be a beautiful weekend, so I'm going to get all my thoughts written down tonight and then go nowhere near the computer until Monday.

We had my son's party in the park today. I invited four of his friends and damned if, for the second year in a row, two of them didn't show up. The mothers told me they would definitely be there. The kids were excited about it. No phone call, no apologies. C'mon parents, that's just pathetic and rude.

Our neighbors packed up three of their kids and went to California for a week, leaving their 16-year-old daughter at home alone. The first night she had her 19-year-old boyfriend over for a little slumber party. Should I tell her parents about it, or just mind my own business?

In the past week my son has become addicted to Neopets.com. What a devious gimmick... Tell the kids that if they don't keep playing games and earning points, "Your pet will die!!"

There was definitely some sort of magic in the air the other night when both my kids announced, before their normal bedtime, that they were tired and wanted to go to bed. And both were asleep within fifteen minutes. That has never happened before, and probably will never happen again.

My daughter made up a joke: "What did one octopus say to the other octopus? Let's go get some octo-pie!"

We rented the 1986 Disney live-action film Flight of the Navigator. The kids liked it, but I was surprised to hear the words "G-d D-mn" and "sh-t" in the dialogue. It seems so unnecessary to have that kind of language in a film geared toward pre-teens.

We've also rented a number of those computer-animated Barbie movies for my daughter. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've enjoyed all of them, especially Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. But shhhhh... don't tell anyone that my son liked them too.

My daughter has recently become obsessed with temporary tattoos. She's currently sporting a skull and crossbones on her upper arm (a Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in). I hope this isn't a sign of things to come!

That's it... Enjoy your weekend!


Friday, June 23, 2006

 

More Toys Please

A new record for my son: Approximately 14 hours after his birthday ended, he announced the first item on his Christmas list. Well, at least he's planning ahead.

So is Mattel... Here's what they're going to have in stores this fall.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

 

Years Go By



My son had a great birthday. The years are going by too quickly. I need to find a way to slow time.

Seems like he just celebrated his first birthday (see above).


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

 

Figure of Eight

Today my son turns eight years old.

This past year saw some big changes for him. He learned to ride a two-wheeled bike. He started reading chapter books, graduating from Dr. Seuss to Hardy Boys and Boxcar Children. He took on a lot more personal responsibility, such as brushing his teeth without us asking and picking out his own clothes. This past year he also started getting an allowance. Along with that, he opened his first savings account. One of the biggest changes of the past year is that he began to understand that learning and doing new things is a reward in itself.

No matter what the changes, I'm very proud of him. I'm proud that people say he's a nice boy, especially the girls in his class who are not yet attracted to the "bad boys"... I'm proud that he holds the door open for kindergarteners, and that he always remembers to say "Thank you" when older kids hold the door for him... I'm proud of him for having a wide variety of interests, from Star Wars to Hot Wheels to gardening to fishing... I'm proud of him when he teaches his little sister games, like Stratego and Monopoly. She doesn't always get it, but he keeps trying in the face of frustration... Most of all, I'm just proud that he is learning and growing and having fun, just like he's supposed to be doing. He may get a little silly sometimes. Well, make that a LOT silly sometimes, but when is he ever going to have another chance to be a silly 8-year-old boy?

Last night he was so excited about his birthday that he said, "Daddy, I don't think I can fall asleep! Can you bring me my new book from downstairs so I can read a little?" Five minutes later, when I returned to his room with book in hand, he was sound asleep, one of the cats curled up next to his head.

Later today we'll ride bikes, go for a swim, have a little family party, eat pizza and cake, and open presents. In a few days he'll have a party in the park with his friends. It's a great time to be eight years old!


Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Flippy Floppy



Happy flippin' Father's Day!

And I do mean flippin'! The first half of my day was a crushing disappointment. It could've been much worse, though. But let me back up a bit.

Our new kayaks arrived just the other day and we started making plans for our maiden voyage on Father's Day. These beautiful sit-on-top Malibu Pro2 Tandem kayaks certainly looked exciting as we carried them to the beach and situated ourselves with one adult and one kid on each of the two kayaks.

Let me back up again by saying that we were sold on these kayaks by a multitude of testimonials and sales pitches concerning their stability. The Malibu Kayaks website proclaimed them to be "exceptionally stable." The kayak shop owner assured us they wouldn't flip. On another visit, his daughter told us how it was next to impossible to flip these state-of-the-art kayaks. And, when we picked them up, the owner's wife reminded us of how stable and "unflippable" they are.

Okay, we were convinced that this was ideal for a family with kids. No need for a demo. Why do that when everyone's in our face saying how stable the kayaks are, and how they just won't flip.

You can guess where this story is headed. Back to this morning, we start paddling out from shore a little ways, stopping about 50 yards out to relax and soak in the grandeur of a sunny summer day on the lake in North Idaho. What could be better? Up paddles my wife and daughter, so I decide to take a picture of them. I shift in my seat to open the small hatch under my legs...

And over we go.

You ever have one of those moments where time seems to freeze and speed up at the same time? The kayak flipped over so quickly I didn't even know it was happening. I went under the water, but quickly popped up because of my life jacket. The water was a cold shock, but the bigger shock was not seeing my son. He was under the boat. Thank God for life jackets. I grabbed at him and yanked him away from the kayak, scared to death as he sputtered water out of his mouth and nose.

He began screaming and crying, which then set off my daughter in the other kayak who was now paralyzed with fear that her boat was going to flip over too. I grabbed at our kayak, flipped it back over, then forced my son halfway onto it, calming him down so he could pull himself all the way up. He was shivering and crying so much that he was unable to help himself, but my wife and I were able to drag him onto the kayak. He lay there close to hyperventilating when he suddenly looked out beyond me and, in a panicky voice, shouted, "Daddy!! Your chapstick!!"

We actually started laughing then as I saw my little black chapstick floating away on the surface of the lake. My son recovers quickly from near-death experiences, I guess. My daughter, on the other hand, froze stiff as a board and cried the whole way back to shore. On the beach, she hopped away from the kayaks like they were crocodiles snapping at her feet.

We sat there, looking at our expensive new toys and realizing that our kids will never get back on them. Which is completely understandable since they were right there with us as the experts explained to us how safe and stable these kayaks were. So good for kids. Great fishing platforms. Wonderful way to explore the lake. Not once did anybody say, "Hey, ya know, sometimes these things flip over and you'll find yourself going for an unexpected swim." No, they said that about the old-style sit-in kayaks. They steered us away from those because the sit-on-tops are "exceptionally stable" and "unflippable."

Another lesson for my kids: Don't believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes personal experience is the best way to learn if something works or not.

As for me, I don't think I'll ever shake that brief sickening sensation that I experienced upon not seeing my son pop up to the surface of the water. That moment when I grabbed at his life jacket under the kayak is now seared into my brain and is sure to be the subject of my nightmares for years to come. I haven't even gone to bed yet and I've already had an awful image of my hand snatching an empty life jacket out of the water. I'm not sure I even want to fall asleep! I am sure that tomorrow morning I'm returning those kayaks.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

 

Father's Day Stuff 'N Fluff

Happy Father's Day to all the dad bloggers out there!

A good time for some Stuff 'n Fluff from around the web...

  • Paul Nyhan, reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writes about the world of Daddy Bloggers in this article. I made his list of recommended blogs! It's always nice to be placed at the top of something. You know, I didn't start my blog with the word "A" on purpose, but it sure has worked out well.
  • Jeff at No Ma'am, This Is My Job hasn't posted in five weeks. At what point do we start worrying about our fellow dad bloggers?
  • One of my favorite new stay-at-home mom blogs, Brihans, writes up a recent bike trip in Western Australia. Notice they're all wearing helmets! "Good on ya," as the Aussies say. I'm a sucker for bike trail posts, as I'm keen on getting my own family out on a few of the local trails this summer.
  • Speaking of Australia, a friend of mine from Minnesota just spent a few weeks down under. One of his stops was Tasmania, where he discovered something out of a child's nightmare... During a cruise in Port Arthur Bay, tour guides pointed out Point Peur Island, the first penitentiary for children in the British Empire (see photo below). Established in the 1830's, this prison island was home to boys as young as nine. The punishment for misbehaving there was solitary confinement or thirty strokes of the lash. Tell that to your kids next time they complain about being sent to their room for a time-out.
  • Daddy Detective is now an OFTSD.
  • Jen at the Child Wrangler blog is afraid she'll go shoe crazy before too long.
  • The Weird Girl has an excellent post about the nature of blogs and how to mix real life with entertainment and creativity.
  • Bean's Dad reflects on his wonderful life this Father's Day at Where Boys Fear To Tread. He is anything but incoherent!
  • And that reminds me of a joke that my fellow stay-at-home dads will appreciate:
    One evening a little girl and her parents were sitting around the table eating supper. The little girl said, "Daddy, you're the boss, aren't you?" Her Daddy smiled, pleased, and said yes. The little girl continued, "That's because Mommy put you in charge, right?"



Point Peur Island, Tasmania - Penitentiary For Boys
Photo by Rajiv Vaidyanathan


Friday, June 16, 2006

 

I Got You



We always have music playing. In the car, in the house, at bedtime. Our home is filled with tunes. For the most part, my kids don't say much about it. They have their favorites... Beatles, UB40, and XTC for my son. Ralph's World, Wiggles, and Beatles for my daughter. When I introduce new groups to them, sometimes it takes awhile for the songs to catch on.

And sometimes it doesn't. I pay attention when my son hears a song for the first time and then asks to hear it again. He did it with this one, during a recent Split Enz marathon in the car.

Listen: Split Enz - "I Got You" MP3

Released in 1980, I Got You brought Split Enz its first taste of success after many years of toil. The simple melody and lyrics, along with the uber-catchy chorus of "I don't know why sometimes I get frightened" makes for an instant earworm.

This song is to Split Enz what Yellow Submarine is to the Beatles, at least with my kids. It's the one they want to hear over and over. It's the one my son sings in the shower at the top of his lungs. Soon I'll be adding Split Enz to his list of favorite bands.

Here's another song by them, from their 1984 farewell album. Good for dancing around with your kids...

Listen: Split Enz - "Ninnie Knees Up" MP3



Click here to buy Spellbound: The Best of Split Enz CD at Amazon..



Thursday, June 15, 2006

 

Summer Chill

I was talking with my son last month about summer plans -- things we would do, places we would go. He said, "Daddy, I want to do some learning, but not a lot of learning. I just want to have fun this summer."

I told him we would take a break from math, grammar, science, and all of that. I said, "You can still learn things. You should never stop learning. But we won't worry so much about it. We'll have a fun and relaxing vacation."

So now summer is here... The kids got out of school last week. I reminded my son that we were going to have a carefree summer filled with hiking, swimming, bike riding, playing, exploring, and reading for fun. Plus, no lectures from me for two whole months.

That last part was his favorite. A relieved look crossed his face, and he sighed happily, "Daddy's going to take a chill pill!"

So that's what I'm doing... Summer chillin'... Hope you are too.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

 

First Swim of the Year



After standing in the rain trying to catch a fish on Saturday, my son was eager to jump in the lake and act like a fish on Sunday. The water temperature was in the low 60's, but he didn't care. He splashed around and had a great time for about 30 minutes. The other kids, including my daughter and a friend, weren't so daring.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

Love Is...



Love is standing in the cold rain for three hours with your son while he learns to fish.

He didn't catch anything, but had quite a few nibbles. We'll keep trying.


Monday, June 12, 2006

 

Helmet Or No Helmet

Brett, over at DadTalk, pointed out this alarming statistic: 83.4 percent of students who rode a bike rarely or never wore a helmet.

I'd like to hear from you moms and dads who think it's not very important to make your children protect their heads while riding their bikes. I've been racking my brain for the past few days trying to come up with one good reason why a child, or even an adult, would not wear a bike helmet. But I just can't come up with anything.

Since there are so many parents who don't care (over eighty percent!!), maybe someone can let me in on their little secret.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

 

Rainbow Connection

A fellow soccer dad sent me this amazing photo of a Circumhorizon Arc that he took last weekend here in North Idaho. Click on the picture to see a larger version.



Photo by Chris Weber


Friday, June 09, 2006

 

Answers To Everything

My 4-year-old daughter has a new answer to any question about her behavior.

"Why are you picking your nose?"
Because I was born that way!

"Why are you jumping on your bed?"
Because I was born that way!

"Why do you make such a big mess in your room?"
Because I was born that way!

I don't know where she learned that phrase. It makes me smile every time she says it. And now it's getting to where she knows that I think it's funny and she just giggles the words out.

"Why are you so cute?"
Because I was born that way!

That's right.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

 

Get On Your Bike And Ride

My son learned to ride his bike, without training wheels, last fall. He didn't have much time to practice before cold weather hit, so he got a little rusty over the winter. Last week he finally climbed back on his bike and took a wobbly spin around the park. You could see the look of pure joy come over his face as everything clicked in his brain and he mastered the pedaling, steering, and balance. Since then all he wants to do is ride. He talks about nothing else. He gets up in the morning and wants to be on his bike. Before bedtime he asks if he can go out just one more time.

Today he took a spill right in front of me, falling forward and landing smack-dab on the cross-bar. He hopped around, grabbing his crotch, then started to get back on his bike. I asked, "Are you alright? Maybe you should sit down for a minute." He replied, "I'm not going to let that stop me!"

We'll see just how unstoppable he is as we head out on some of the local paved trails. One of them, The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, stretches 73 miles across the Idaho panhandle. Another, The Route of the Hiawatha, features a nearly two-mile tunnel.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

Move Over Princess

Like millions of little girls around the world, my daughter is infatuated with Disney Princesses. It was almost impossible to resist the juggernaut of dolls, clothes, bed sheets, posters, books, and everything else that Disney plastered with the faces of Cinderella and the girls.

Well, move over your Royal Highnesses, because Disney has launched a new brand to mesmerize our daughters: Disney Fairies.

They've already hit stores in the form of dolls and books. Coming soon -- pajamas, stationery, playsets, a monthly magazine, and, in 2007, a full-length animated movie, "The Story of Tinkerbell."

Get out your wallets!


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

 

The Book I Read

My kids are surrounded by books. On the shelves, on the floor, under the bed, they're everywhere. Just as I planned it when they were young -- to make the presence of books and a love for reading a natural part of their lives.

Here are the books we've had our noses in recently...

My daughter has asked us to read this one a couple of times: Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, by Kathleen Krull, a concisely told biography of the Olympic champion that is geared toward younger readers. It tells the story of Wilma as a sickly young girl who overcame numerous obstacles, including polio, to become a two-time gold medalist. Perseverance is the key lesson here, one which kids really need because it's sometimes so easy to just quit when things get hard. What really struck me about this story was a brief, but truly stunning, note about Wilma's mother. She gave birth to 22 children. 22. Talk about an Olympic achievement!

My son has been devouring The World's Deadliest Diseases, by Tim O'Shei. This is a compendium of ten of the most horrific diseases on the planet, including plague, cholera, cancer, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, with a couple of pages devoted to each sickness. Just looking at the cover of the book makes me depressed, but my son is fascinated by germs and viruses. For the past week he's been talking non-stop about things like parasites, tumors, bacteria, and bleeding scabs. It makes for pleasant dinner table conversation... Not. I'm just glad he has such a big appetite for knowledge about the world around him. And maybe this book will help him remember to wash his hands after using the bathroom!

I found the time to read an actual grown-up book this past month. Sweet and Low, by Rich Cohen, is a breezy memoir that covers everything from family dysfunction to Jewish mobsters to a history of artificial sweeteners. It's all told in an often light-hearted, sometimes deadly serious, narrative that is a surprisingly compelling tale. I highly recommend it.

Click on the book title links to purchase these books at Amazon. Or do what we did and get them from the library.

While I'm on this subject, Clea Hantman of the Small Ages music blog for kids, has just published her latest book for young girls... I Wanna Make My Own Clothes is packed full of ideas for all kinds of fashion fun. Check it out!


Thursday, June 01, 2006

 

We Will Rock You

We get mail: Hey, how's that backyard project coming along?!

Thanks for asking. Last I mentioned it, I had made a big muddy mess trying to level out a sloped backyard. I briefly contemplated calling in the professionals, but my son was learning about perseverance at school and I took that lesson to heart. I kept at it, moving dirt around, scraping and digging, until it actually started looking like what I had envisioned.

After about a week, and two heavy equipment rentals, I had a flat and level area on which to plant grass. The kids will be able to kick a ball around without it rolling away toward the house. I don't know how many tons of dirt I moved, but I must've pulled a thousand rocks out of the ground, ranging from the size of a golfball all the way up to the size of a watermelon.

Since all that dirt got pushed and piled around the perimeter of the yard, my next step was to build a retaining wall. I'm in the middle of that right now, as you can see in these pictures...





These rocks are heavier than they look. The smallest is around 40 pounds, while the largest can easily top 100. And here I am with my little furniture dolly, maneuvering these things into place while the guy next door has pro landscapers wheeling around his yard on Bobcat steer loaders hardly breaking a sweat.

There's a great deal of satisfaction at doing things yourself. I'm teaching my kids a valuable lesson about hard work, perseverance, determination, and saving a bit of money.

I'm also showing them that you have to be really careful while hauling such heavy materials, as they've been front and center to see me smash various fingers and toes.

Why do kids laugh so much when Daddy hurts himself?